Me and Nicholas Simon Augustine “Nick” Knowles (of DIY SOS fame) share the same passion: top hats.
Here is the article in question (dated Sunday 27th February 2011): http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/231513
Reproduced in full below (in case it ever gets taken off line):
Nick Knowles, 48, may be best known for his DIY shows but when he is not hosting TV programmes the father of three likes nothing better than to doff one of his prized hats.
When I was young my father and his brothers wouldn’t leave the house without a hat, usually a trilby or a bowler, but that tradition died out in the mid-Fifties.
I was fascinated by that and the fact that the hat you wore was once so related to class so I started looking at hats and going to museums and soon became obsessed with top hats, starting to collect them in earnest when I was 28. Since then I have amassed a collection of 13.
The first top hat I bought cost me about £50 and came from a shop in Covent Garden. I thought it was fairly well made. Since then I’ve started buying more and more and investing more in the ones I buy.
Before too long I had even started commissioning specialists to make them to my own designs.
I wanted one that harked back to the late 1800s, a very London-based, John Bull-style hat. They had what is called a belled top, which means it’s wider at the top than it is where it attaches to the [b]rim. They look just like Mad Hatter hats. As no one makes them like that any more I had to go to Patey Hats in London and plead my case. Luckily they were more than willing to help out, simply saying: “If you draw it, we’ll make it.”
Patey Hats has a Royal Warrant and is one of the best of its kind in London. They measure the shape of your head with this enormous contraption [i.e. the conformateur] and the first time I saw what shape my head was it was quite a surprise. In your imagination you assume it is perfectly round but people often discover it looks more melon shaped or pear shaped.
The hats I’ve ordered from Patey’s are beautifully made but they are not cheap. They cost about £400 or £500 each but they are the real deal, not just for fancy dress. I am getting one made for Ascot, it is black with a belled top.
I’ve even had a go at making top hats myself and one year I made one for my girlfriend, again that was to wear to Ascot. It was a lot of effort but I’m glad I gave it a go as it was really interesting to find out exactly what the process involves.
Occasionally I will pick up a new top hat at an antique shop or hear about auctions where there are some particularly special purchases to be bid for.
At auction some rare examples can go for thousands. My most expensive hat cost £4,500, it is from the mid-to-late 18th century and is in black French silk which is very, very rare.
I don’t wear that one out, or any of my oldest hats either as they are so fragile, but I regularly wear most of the others.
In the old days they were made for comfort and were lighter but it means they are very easily damaged. Today they are heavier and harder and worn more for show.
Another inspiration for collecting top hats was going to a lot of rugby matches and getting abuse from my Celtic cousins.
I felt I wanted to be even more English so I went to matches wearing a Mad Hatter hat as I thought it seemed to have a sense of fun and Englishness about it. I got monstrous abuse but it was well worth it.
I am moving house at the moment so the collection is in storage but I had them on display in my last house. As long as they don’t get damp or have anything heavy leaning on them they are fine.
The top hat I would most like to get hold of is a George V-style one that is particularly tall, cream and US-made. It is very belled-top and about half the size of a standard top hat. That would cost thousands and they don’t come up for sale very often unfortunately.
If I had to save one hat from my collection it would be the dark brown belled-top John Bull-style top hat, which I had made and cost me £560. I wear it a lot so it gets roughed up and it has a real feel of old London about it.
The person who first wore a top hat in 1797 was arrested and fined for scaring horses and upsetting people with such a ridiculous item of clothing.
My girlfriend pretty much thinks I should be arrested when I go out wearing mine but she puts up with it because she knows I am eccentric.
My children are also slightly embarrassed but once everyone is wearing them, which will happen over the next five years, they will realise that their father blazed the trail and they will be very proud of me.
As told to JANE CLINTON
I would love to meet him one day and start having a long chat about toppers and see his collection.